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Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi

To be Submitted

On the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

December 18, 2007

Mr. President.  I rise today to speak in strong opposition to the ominous omnibus appropriations bill that we are debating.  There are literally billions of reasons to vote against this bill, and that is what I intend to do when we vote on it later today. 

We are nearly a quarter of the way through fiscal year 2008 and President Bush has signed only one of the twelve appropriations bills into law.  The remaining eleven bills are stuck together in this bill.  There is half a trillion dollars of spending in this 3,000 page bill.  It was released to the House of Representatives three days ago, delivered to the Senate this afternoon, and we’re expected to vote on it today.  If it fails, we are threatened with the possibility of a government shutdown.  This is the sad, unreal state of affairs that has become the norm.   This is exhibit number one of what is wrong with government in this country and I will not condone it.  Every year this happens.  Every year we drive an omnibus, we get closer to financial ruin. 

What have we been spending our time on this year?  I can assure you that it is nothing that will be signed into law.  We have had more than 50 votes on Iraq – none have been signed into law.  We spent weeks debating S-CHIP reauthorization, even though it was obvious that there were not enough votes to override the President’s veto.  Instead of working with the White House to move appropriations bills through the normal process, we have waited until December 18th to debate 11 of the 12 spending bills in a “must pass” package.

In the 2006 mid – term elections, the American people called on us to stop with business as usual.  They called on us to stop overspending.  They called on us to change.  The new majority promised all of those things.  They promised to get appropriations bills done on time.  They promised to work in a bipartisan fashion to cut spending.  That has not happened.  Instead of change, we’ve seen Washington run in a more partisan manner than ever before and we’ve accomplished less this year than any I can remember.    

This is a bill that numbers more than 3,000 pages, and I can’t imagine that many of my colleagues have read it in its entirety.  In the crazy world that is Washington , the bill complies with the spending levels set forth by President Bush, but it does so in a way that uses budget gimmicks and hides billions of dollars in extra spending. 

The bill provides half a trillion dollars in discretionary spending.  This, in theory, helps us comply with the President’s request for discretionary spending in fiscal year 2008.  Unfortunately, there is more to this story.  The bill provides more than $11 billion in spending designated “emergency” spending that somehow doesn’t count against the budget.

As the only accountant in the Senate, I can tell you that the federal government’s budgeting is criminal.  If a private company “forgot” to count $11 billion against their budget, the CEO would go to jail.   

 

What is this emergency spending?  This funding includes $3.7 billion in contingent emergencies for veterans; $3 billion for border security; $2.4 billion for foreign-aid programs; $602 million for drought relief; $400 million for women, infants, and children; $300 million for wildfire suppression; and $250 million for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

I support providing full funding for our veterans.  I support providing money for border security.  Almost all of these provisions are worthy areas for federal funding.  But we cannot spend money on everything we want and call ourselves fiscally responsible.  If the money is needed for these programs, maybe we should cut out the more than 9,000 earmarks that are in this bill to pay for them.

At some point, someone will have to pay for our overspending and I would ask: where do my colleagues think this money comes from?  This is money coming from the mother who works at the mall, the father who builds buildings, the farmer who plows the fields.  They don’t work so hard so they can serve up a dish of pork to people a thousand miles away, but that’s what the architects of this bill are making them do.

As the senior Republican member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I have a special interest in the Labor-HHS title of this bill because I have worked on, and in some cases authored, many of the discretionary programs in that title.  I voted against this bill when it was considered on the floor last month because of the excessive level of spending.  The title before us today is $6.3 billion less than President Bush vetoed—but still nearly $4 billion more than was requested in his budget.  Though we should do more to contain spending and limit what is essentially being charged on a government credit card, the spending reductions in this title are an improvement over the original bill.  $4 billion may not seem like much money in the context of a budget that totals more than $2 trillion. But the cumulative effect of excessive spending will total in the tens of billions in any given year unless we act to maintain some form of fiscal discipline.

My concerns with this bill are more than just fiscal. We have a process around here for considering legislation and this bill ignores that process and the Senate rules that expressly prohibit legislating on appropriations bills.  We hold hearings in Committee. We work within the Committee to develop and pass legislation. Then we consider the bill on the Senate floor.  We do this so that important issues get the input and attention the American people deserve. It might take longer to go through these steps, but the product is better—not perfect—but certainly better than the product before us today.

The amount of legislating in the omnibus appropriations bill, particularly the Labor-HHS title, is criminal and outrageous. HIV/AIDS funding is a perfect example. One year ago, the House and Senate passed by an overwhelming majority authorization legislation for Ryan White.  We agreed that money would follow the patient. Our recent revisions to Ryan White ensured that no large city lost more than 5% of its formula funding from the previous fiscal year.  In addition to the formula funding, cities sometimes receive additional supplemental funds to deal with severe need.  To ensure more stability, we reduced that supplemental funding—from 50% of the total to 1/3 of the total appropriations—to provide additional formula funding.  The House Labor-HHS appropriations bill changed this formula that was unanimously agreed to just a year ago.  I tried to improve the bill during the floor debate by offering an amendment dealing with the Ryan White HIV/AIDS funding formula.  My amendment was accepted by a roll call vote of 65-28, but dropped during the conference process.  My amendment simply ensured that the current Ryan White funding formulas would not be altered by this appropriations bill. 

The House provision I mentioned, which was called the “Pelosi fix” during debate on the Senate floor, funnels money away from the current Ryan White FY 2008 formulas.  It will bring back waiting lines for people needing care and treatment, while providing San Francisco a funding increase even though they receive money in part for people who are already dead.  While I understand that this provision has been modified from the original Labor-HHS appropriations bill and is only slightly less bad, this process is insulting. This formula change has never received a hearing in a Congressional Committee, never been marked-up, and was inserted in the House bill without a full debate or even a vote. Striking this part did occur with a significant vote in the Senate.  So much for transparency and sunshine in Washington .  I am embarrassed and offended by this process.

Even though my amendment was supported by a majority of Senate conferees, it was dropped in the conference negotiations on the Labor-HHS bill and again in the omnibus.  And because of the ridiculously late timing of this legislation—there is no meaningful or politically realistic way to amend this bill here today.  Our constituents deserve a better, more fair process.

The omnibus also addresses funding for September 11th workers. Specifically, this legislation provides an additional $109 million for treatment, screening and monitoring for 9-11 related health issues.  This is in addition to the approximately $45 million that was included in the Emergency War Supplemental earlier this year.  In addition, this legislation for the first time expands funding to cover all New York City residents and unspecified “others”. It does not make sense to broadly expand current spending to cover any and all New York City residents when the HELP Committee is working right now on a solution for emergency responders, construction workers and other heroes we know are sick.  There are substantial unspent funds already available: out of a total of $92 million in Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007, and currently proposed under the President’s 2008 budget, grantees have actually drawn down just $2 million in payments on FY2006 funds.

The Labor – HHS section of the bill is not the only section that includes problematic legislation.  The bill includes the provision that allows a 2 percent deduction of state mineral royalty payments to help cover administrative costs at the Department of the Interior.  It is yet another example of the federal government taking money that is owed to the states to pay for unrelated federal priorities because of the majority in Congress who don’t control spending.   

The omnibus contains a provision to prohibit the Department of the Interior from issuing final regulations for oil shale development even though the process for development was laid out through careful, bipartisan negotiations during consideration of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  It also includes a new $4,000 fee for each application for a permit to drill oil and gas wells with no guarantees that the permits will move forward in an expeditious manner so that we can produce more domestic energy. 

It’s unfortunate that the Congress waited until December 18th to advance these appropriations bills. Without the “gotcha politics” part, they could have been completed more than two months ago. The Congress has wasted countless weeks writing and debating bills that were never going to be signed into law—the President has been quite vocal about his objections. So here we are today, a week before Christmas, cramming through in one day a product larger than the Manhattan phone book—and that most of my colleagues have not had the time to read and review.  I am offended by the process. I am disappointed in this institution, and I intend to vote no on this bill.   I yield the floor.